Songs, Book III , John Dowland

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Songs, Book III , John Dowland
Year of Composition:    
Stephen Rosenthal
Farewell, unkind
Weep you no more
It was a time
In this trembling shadow cast
Fie on this Feigning
The lowest trees have tops
I must complain


Buffalo News, The (Buffalo, NY)
Monday, December 3, 2001
Westminster Church: Amherst Saxophone Quartet
Jan Jezioro

The Amherst Saxophone Quartet performed numbers from its recently released CD during a show Friday in Westminster Presbyterian Church.

Can vocal music, written in the 15th century be successfully played on an instrument invented in the 19th century by a group of musicians at the beginning of the 21st century? The answer is, most emphatically, "yes," when that music is performed by the Amherst Saxophone Quartet. The ASQ offered a concert Friday evening in Westminster Presbyterian Church celebrating the release of its new CD "Renaissance Masterworks of Josquin Desprez."

The performance featured a generous selection of numbers from the CD, almost all of which were beautifully transcribed for saxophone quartet by the ASQ's soprano player Susan Fancher. The ASQ nicely captured the tempered sadness of the melancholy lament on baritone Harry Fackelman's version of the motet "Absalon fili mi."

The very nature of the well-blended sound of a saxophone quartet, which occasionally proves an obstacle when a composer is looking for sound variety, proved to be a strong point in these versions of music written for a group of equal voices, with a homogenous tone color.

From the smooth, creamy lines of the opening "Domine," through the mellifluous sound that the players brought to the "Ave Maria," the selections by Desprez had a wonderfully soothing effect. The two sections of the "Misse Pange lingua" were especially memorable, from the euphonious sounding "Gloria" to the evening's final piece, the "Sanctus," highlighted by duets for soprano and alto, and tenor and baritone.

The ASQ has always demonstrated the ability to build a strong program, and this was no exception. Poulenc composed his "Suite Francaise" using dance tunes by French Renaissance master Claude Gervaise, transforming them with his unique wit and charm. This very modern "old" music was tossed off with the ASQ's trademark clean, precise articulation, especially apparent in the breakneck speed of the "Petite Marche."

Henri Pousseur's 1973 "Vue sur les Jardins Interdits" was offered as a "palate cleanser," but even this work's restless outer sections surrounded a peaceful center that demonstrated a distinct affinity with the rest of evening's program.

A delightful set of songs by John Dowland, transcribed by tenor Stephen Rosenthal, was followed by "The Harfleur Song" (1978), by English composer Paul Harvey, where the full sound of the quick tempo dance-like piece, was played as Renaissance music with a twist.

Domine, exaudi orationem meam, Josquin Desprez
Ave Maria, Josquin Desprez
Missa Pange lingua, Josquin Desprez
Suite Francaise (1935), Francis Poulenc
Vue sur les Jardins Interdits (1973), Henri Pousseur
Songs, Book III , John Dowland
Harfleur Song, Paul Harvey
Westminster Church: Amherst Saxophone Quartet
Buffalo News, The (Buffalo, NY)
Thursday, September 28, 1995
The luxuriant sound of baroque saxes
Thomas Putnam

The Amherst Saxophone Quartet played a baroque program Wednesday night in the acoustically warm Buffalo Seminary chapel, and they were not trespassing. This tight choir of saxophones made the made-for-organ pieces sound especially luxuriant, the capstone of the program being the dramatic and thrilling Toccata and Fugue in d minor by Bach. In this transcription by Harry Fackelman (the baritone saxophonist in the quartet), one was easily swept up in the harmonic sound and the bold lines. Not every easy way was taken, either. The closing passage for alto saxophone, for example, was played by Russ Carere with brave staccato attacks. (Click for additional Toccata review.) There was more Bach along the way, including a wonderful piece by a son of Bach, J.C. Bach. Two movements from a sinfonietta by this precursor of Mozart may have been snuck into this baroque concert room in the pocket of the rather large coat; but we must be glad they were allowed to remain, that no usher representing Authenticity threw them out. This young Bach's music is remarkable for the distance it takes from the music of the conservative father. For that and for its natural good grace and appealing character. It is altogether classic. (Click for additional Sinfonietta review.) The reactionary father -- and we are glad for that. The Amherst saxophonists played one other organ work by J.S. --the Prelude and Fugue in c minor, and what a wonderful reedy sound it had, and how near the sound an organ can make. We also heard a transcription of Bach's Orchestral Suite No. 1 in C, which perhaps more than any other piece on the program sounded like a reduction -- you missed the colorings that give the part-writing clarity. One bit of genius was the arrangement by Stephen Rosenthal, the tenor saxophonist, of songs by John Dowland. This Elizabethan group of vocal pieces works extremely well, for the saxophones easily enter this harmonic world, so rich and clean at the same time. Rhythm here is terribly captivating -- it takes little hops, skips and jumps that make a spirit sit up. A large piece by Handel, a Concerto in d minor (more like a suite, it seemed), was notable for its radiant-sounding harmonies, and for the way the saxophonists achieved an agile staccato, something not easy to accomplish with regularity. In this performance the players were eager to keep a tempo pushed to a nervous edge. The last movement was a ceremonial piece, with a kind of carnival sound. A Fantazia by Orlando Gibbons started the evening with peppery staccatos and tonal swells; nearly jazzy in appearance, it was played as if made for saxophones. Probably it was rare for a keyboard sonata by Domenico Scarlatti to sound rich and sonorous, but this music seemed to enjoy its transposition for saxophones. Its not for life, after all, that these things are done. The Scarlatti's percussiveness was in abeyance, but its harmony blossomed. You can't have everything -- but who wants everything?

Toccata in d minor, Johann Sebastian Bach
Songs, Book III , John Dowland
Sonata 44, Domenico Scarlatti
Concerto in d minor, George Frederic Handel
Fantazia, Orlando Gibbons
The luxuriant sound of baroque saxes

Composer Biography

1563 — 1626

Dowland, John, of English or possibly Irish origin, was born in 1563, probably in London. He was a lutenist of distinction but failed, allegedly because he was a Catholic, to win a position in the royal service, seeking his fortune abroad at Kassel and later, in 1598, at the court of Christian IV of Denmark. He was forced by debt to return to England in 1606 and eventually won appointment as one of the King's Lutes in 1612.
Dowland was the composer, in particular, of one of the best known and most imitated songs of the period, Flow my teares. It epitomized the fashionable humour of the day, melancholy. Dowland himself provided an apt pun on his own name - Dowland, semper dolens (Dowland, always grieving) - although he had a reputation as a cheerful man.


Buffalo News, The
Sound thinking

Never accuse the Amherst Saxophone Quartet of not knowing when to take a winner and run with it. In October 1999, its program called Renaissance Sax featured seven transcriptions of works by the Flemish composer josquin Desprez. The concert was so rapturously received, by public and press alike, it is repeating it, almost verbatim. at 7:30 p.rn. today in Westminster Presbyterian Church.

Not only that, the quartet has taken those seven Desprez nuggets, added four more, and has produced a new CD called "Renaissance Masterworks of Josquin Desprez" which it will unveil at this evening's concert.

In addition to the Desprez selections, the concert includes four other repeats from 1999, all with some direct or oblique Renaissance reference: Poulenc's "Suite Francaise," selections by John Dowland, Pousseur's 1973 "Vue sur les jardins Interdits" and Paul Harvey's 1978 "The Harfleur Song." Tickets are $10 adult or $5 student/senior. Call 839-9716.

At 8 p.m. Saturday, the quartet will be guests of Buffalo Contemporary Dance at a concert in the Flickinger Performing Arts Center, Nichols School, 1250 Amherst St. Tickets are $15 adult, $10 student/senior. Call 633-5697
—Herman Trotter

ASQ, Sound thinking